Updated December 29, 2011
Cheetah, the chimpanzee that starred in the Tarzan films of the 1930s, has died at the age of 80, according to the Florida sanctuary where he had lived for more than 50 years.
“It is with great sadness that the community has lost a dear friend and family member on December 24, 2011. Cheetah, star of the Tarzan films, passed away after kidney failure,” the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor announced on its website.
His character was devised for the films as a sidekick to the jungle hero, providing comic relief.
The role was played by Cheetah and several other primates over the years.
Cheetah – who arrived at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in 1960 – loved finger-painting and watching football and was soothed by Christian music, the sanctuary’s outreach director Debbie Cobb told the Tampa Tribune.
“He could tell if I was having a good day or a bad day. He was always trying to get me to laugh if he thought I was having a bad day. He was very in tune to human feelings,” Ms Cobb said.
Ron Priest, a sanctuary volunteer, told the Tribune that Cheetah stood out because he could walk upright with a straight back like a human and that he was distinguished by other talents.
“When he didn’t like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them. He could get you at 30 feet with bars in between,” Mr Priest said.
Actress Mia Farrow, whose mother played Jane to Weissmuller’s Tarzan, posted a tweet on hearing of Cheetah’s death, saying; “My mom, Tarzan’s Jane, referred to Cheetah-the-chimp as ‘that bastard’ – saying he bit her at every opportunity. Cheetah lived to be 80.
“However, doubts have been raised about the sanctuary’s claim that its chimp was the Cheetah featured in the pre-War Tarzan films.
The sanctuary reportedly said documentation proving the chimp’s identity was destroyed in a fire in 1995.
A similar report about a chimp which could have been Cheetah dying in 2008 was subsequently shown to be false.
The average chimpanzee is thought to live for 40 to 45 years in the wild and about 10 years longer in captivity. (ABC/wires)